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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 13, 2018 3 months ago

Business designed to help startups overcome obstacles has big plans

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With a new space and expanded model, the Rocket Lounge aims to work with more promising companies.
by: Ted Carter Contributor

A realization the Rocket Lounge couldn’t make a profit at its cramped downtown Fort Myers home clinched a decision to move the business accelerator to Naples.

The deciders — founder and CEO Dieter Kondek and COO Bud Stoddard — say they prefer the moneymaking odds they get in Naples for their incubator/accelerator project.  

Some of their thinking comes from attractive lease rates they snagged for the furnished 10,000 square-foot fourth floor of the Bank of America Building at 4501 Tamiami Trail. Further convincing comes from faith Naples will grow as a draw for international tech startups, especially European ones. The companies, Rocket executives say, can launch their U.S. ventures from Naples less expensively than in Boston, New York and Austin.

Ultimately, an opportunity to fill a growing market void sealed the deal, Kondek and Stoddard say.

That’s because the non-profit Naples Accelerator hasn’t drawn the European enterprises backers had counted on, while Naples’ Venture X is focused on leasing virtual desks, co-working space and office suites, says Stoddard, a Bostonian and co-founder of the Tamiami Angel Fund who made his mark in the data-backup business. That’s where Rocket Lounge sees its shot.

'We are now at full speed in international soft-landing programs.’ Dieter Kondek

“We think what we are doing differentiates us from the two main players,” adds Stoddard, who came out of retirement last fall to join the Rocket Lounge Innovation Center. “I love the concept of what we are doing, which is coaching entrepreneurs and building businesses.”

Kondek started Rocket Lounge at 422 Hendry St. in Fort Myers in 2016 with the slogan “Turn Your Vision into a Real Business.” By late 2017, the native of Germany and a former European representative for such companies as IMB, Dell and Tech Data Corp., decided he’d need a reset to make his own vision a reality.

The Rocket had around 5,000 square feet in Fort Myers, about 90 members and a capacity to host about 20 startups. “In Naples it is totally different because we have such a bigger space,” including a lot more parking, Kondek says. 

A couple of empty floors in the Bank of America Building give the accelerator ability to expand by 20,000 square feet. The new digs also came fully furnished, having been occupied by a medical software company.

Tenants occupy six of the 12 office suites. More suites should be ready by the end of the year. “Ultimately, we’ll have 30 suites total,” Kondek says.

Also included are 95 dedicated workspaces and desks, four video conferencing rooms and event hosting space for around 120 people. Rocket’s full relocation to Naples should be completed by the end of May.

Kondek expects a lot of the new Naples space will go to companies from outside the United States. A trio of European startups, including a tech outfit from Berlin that specializes in facilities access control, has already signed up. “We are now at full speed in international soft-landing programs,” Kondek says.

The Rocket, he adds, expects to recruit about 50 international members, mostly from Europe. “Our soft landing here is unique,” he says of Naples.

To start, he says, European companies can hire programmers and marketers here for half the price of Boston and New York. Then the Rocket comes in as “a one-stop shop” that can help foreign companies with accounting, marketing and even mentoring, Kondek says.

Stoddard says the Rocket can draw from a cadre of about 60 successful entrepreneurs and retired executives to mentor its members. “That is a tremendous resource,” he says.

Local outreach will include quarterly boot camps on starting and marketing a tech business. “We’ll sign up different speakers, mostly successful entrepreneurs,” Kondek says.

Big established entities are also on the radar, Kondek says, mentioning approaches made to companies such as Hertz and Gartner on collaborating with the Rocket’s idea people. “If Kodak had moved some of their innovative people to a place like this,” says Kondek, “they would not have gone out of business.”

 

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